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Making a Fur Felt Hatbody or Hood – Factory Tour

The process of making a fur felt hatbody is a fascinating one. Did you know there are around 125 processes? SO, combined with your hat making processes, that’s one well-handled finished hat. If you’re interested in where your products come from, this virtual tour of our fur felt maker will be worth the look.

From fur to fur felt hood

There are nine departments in the factory, and most hats go through each, where several processes transform the raw fur pelts into a fur felt hatbody.

Skin processing

Fur Preparation

Cone forming

Felting

Dyeing

Stiffening

Wet operation (shaping)

Final polishing

Inspection and packaging

Each is important and determines the character and use of each hatbody produced.

Where does the fur come from? Is it sustainable? Cruel?

Questions like these have become more prevalent in recent years. It’s important to be informed about how our action and purchases affect others and the world around us. Fur has a long and often tarnished history, and for good reason. Some practices in the fur industry are horrifying.

Fortunately, the rabbit fur that goes into our newly manufactured hoods has a more sustainable origin. It’s quite common for Ukrainians from rural areas to keep animals, including rabbits, for food.  Not only do they eat the rabbits, but they also retain and prepare the skins for the felt factory where the fur is used for felt making. The skins are then sent to the glue factory for making artists products. I’d consider this very sustainable and great use of a byproduct. 

I’m sure we’d all like to think that rabbits are shorn like sheep, but that would be less desirable in many ways. Think about backyard chickens compared to farmed ones; we all know which get a better life. The bottom line is the rabbits have to die to make felt. You can make your mind up if you think that is wrong or right. 

Further fur preparation

The hides are dried on frames and sent to the factory, where the pelts are treated and the fur shaved off.

Rabbits are not all the same colour; some are white, some brown and others grey. The fur is not bleached, so white hoods come from white fur. But depending on the desired colour for the finished hatbody, different colour fur or blends are used. That’s good news in a couple of ways. Bleaching requires chemicals that can harm the environment, as does dyeing. Brown fur requires little or no dyeing to achieve a brown or khaki hood.

Fur felt colour chart bright colours
The most popular of the factorie's colours
Fur felt colour chart Dark colours
Besides these, there are hundreds of shades possible

The fur needs to be thoroughly cleaned. Once clean, it is combed and blown to form mats of fur that make use in the next process easier.

Forming cones

All fur hoods (cones or capelines) start as cones. The fur is blown onto a large vacuumed metal cone shape to form a mat—the shape is then wet and carefully removed from the conical form to be felted. The heavier the end product needs to be, the more fur is layered up.

Felting

These large but thin cones need to go through a felting process which makes the felt denser. Felting requires water, heat, and mechanical movement to push the individual fur hairs to intertwine and matt together. Metal rollers with a combination of steam and water are employed. Each time through the felting machines, cones are turned to ensure an even finish. If they are not rotated, the insides of the cone will felt together.

Only cones of the same size can be processed at the same time. This is one reason for minimum orders and why hat makers can’t usually buy a few hoods direct from the factories.

Dyeing the fur felt hoods

By now, the felt is as dense and large as it needs to be for the finished hatbody. But the colour is still that of the natural fur. Dying is done under pressure and in batches under lab observation to ensure colourfastness and consistent colours. The dye used is nothing special, but the pressurised process ensures an even dye throughout. If you have ever tried dyeing felt hoods at home, you may have had difficulty achieving a consistent result.

The dye water is cleaned in a 5 step process and then recycled for further dyeing. No water from the dyeing process leaves the factory down the drain.

Stiffening the hat bodies

Most hoods are stiffened in the factory. If you are used to traditional millinery felt, you would often stiffen the felt while making the hat. But even these felts receive some stiffener in the factory. Dress weight and western weight felt traditionally associated with men’s hats are usually stiffened a lot more at this stage. It’s then unnecessary to stiffen them further when making the hat. This can be a real advantage as there is no further residue from stiffeners that can sometimes be associated with stiffening felt while making a hat. In the factory, the stiffener is applied through the felt and rolled to get an even finish. This factory uses a shellac-based stiffener similar to our powder stiffener, which is naturally sourced and non-toxic.  Great for your head and the environment.

Stiffening video

Making the capeline – final shaping

It’s only now that the cone is blocked or shaped to be a capeline or flare. This is known as wet processing and employs machines to stretch and shape the cones.

Finishing the fur felt hatbody

Fur felt hoods come in many finishes. It’s all to do with how the surface of the felt looks. Plain or smooth finish is just as you would think, whereas melusine hoods have long fur protruding. The hoods’ surface might need to be brushed, clipped, polished, and combed, depending on the desired finish.

For instance, in velour or peach bloom felt, the brushed surface is clipped to an even velvet-like surface. This is done in the polishing department.

The finished product

There you are. From rabbit stew to a fur felt hat. Fter 125 odd processes, the hat bodies are finished, carefully inspected for quality, and packed. At any process along the way, things can happen to make the felt defective. Holes, marks and irregularities aren’t allowed out of the factory.

The capelines we stock have a higher crown than regular millinery capelines. It means you can make a shaped fedora style crown without having to overstretch your felt or have the tip touch the wearer’s head distorting the shape. They are stiffened to varying degrees. Don’t worry, when you steam them they soften up nicely and it means you run no risk of leaving marks from stiffener application. 

Western weight capelines (210g) are quite thick and stiff.

Dress weight capelines (160g) are a closer weight to regular millinery capelines and are stiffened, but less than western weight. 

Velour capelines (140g) are millinery weight and only have a slight stiffening (like regular fur capelines).

Colourful fur felt capelines

Need help selecting a fur felt hatbody or any other hat-making product? If you have any questions about any of our products, get in touch with Millinery Hub today. We’ll always be happy to offer advice and support to all members of the hat-making community.